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Cowper's Cut 215: A money and numbers game

Cowper's Cut 215: A money and numbers game

Lying about the High Court judgment: an Alan comeback special

Among the remarkable trends of our time is the national media's incuriosity as to whether statements made by the Government, MPs and their representatives are in any way true.

I note this in response to the PM's and The People's Partridge's blatantly false claims about the High Court ruling in the cases of Gardner & Harris vs. Secretary Of State and others, regarding legal responsibility for hospital discharges of patients with Covid19 to care homes in March and April of 2020, at the start of the pandemic.

To quote the actual judgment: “it was irrational for the DHSC not to have advised until mid-April 2020 that where an asymptomatic patient (other than one who had tested negative for COVID- 19) was admitted to a care home, he or she should, so far as practicable, be kept apart for 14 days".

“The court dismissed the other aspects of the case brought by the Claimants, including claims under Articles 2 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and a claim against NHS England (which is legally distinct from the Secretary of State).”

The PM and The People's Partridge (at the time in question, still SOS) promptly went out to bat with alternate versions of reality.

During PMQs, Mr Johnson told Parliament, "the thing that we didn't know in particular was that Covid could be transmitted asymptomatically in the way that it was. That is something I wish we had known more about at the time."

In a statement, a spokesman for Mr Hancock said: "This court case comprehensively clears ministers of any wrongdoing and finds Mr Hancock acted reasonably on all counts. The court also found that Public Health England failed to tell ministers what they knew about asymptomatic transmission".

There is just a slight problem: The judgement itself says "on 8 March 2020 three academic papers were published [...] They all pointed to the real possibility of pre-symptomatic transmission of the virus." (para 271).

Chief Scientific Officer Professor Sir Patrick Vallance had indeed mentioned this possibility of pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic transmission in his BBC R4 Today programme interview on 13 March 2020, saying "it looks quite likely that there is some degree of asymptomatic transmission. There’s definitely quite a lot of transmission very early on in the disease when there are very mild symptoms". Jane Merrick of the i summarises 20 occasions on which the phenomenon came to people's attention at that time.

Public policy lawyer and FT journalist David Allan Green elegantly outlines and deconstructs these Johnson and Hancock 'defences' using facts and the High Court judgment. I commend this to you as a masterclass in controlled fury at our political leaders' contempt for objective reality and the truth. His title: 'The false and misleading statements of Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock about the Covid care homes judgment'.

Gemma Abbott, lawyer and director of the Good Law Project, covers similar ground in these Tweets, and the PM's Unofficial Spokesman Robert Peston of ITV News also interrogates Alan's attempted yet inconsistent self-defence. Sky News' Beth Rigby noted that The People's Partridge had told her a different story in their broadcast interview a week previously.

Blame hound

Sources close to Alan (ones which probably occupy the same pair of shoes) briefed the Telegraph as follows: "speaking on condition of anonymity, Whitehall officials alleged that Prof Duncan Selbie, the former PHE chief executive, was ultimately responsible for informing Mr Hancock of the risks.”

The People's Partridge really is as subtle as a brick.

I noted last week that the changes to nationally-mandated infection control regulations regarding Covid19 may have legal consequences. This High Court judgment (although declaratory rather than financial) may well trigger further compensation claims, which could bring Professor Selbie into a witness box to have these allegations - which seem Hancock-derived - put to him under oath.

That could be very interesting indeed.

It is also well worth re-reading the transcripts of the Public Accounts Committee's June 2020 evidence sessions into preparing for the peak of the pandemic.

The Saj used an offshore trust while an MP

'Cut' has covered the tendentious tax issues of both the Chancellor and the Secretary Of State For Health But Social Care (non-domiciled for U tax 2000-6) in recent weeks.

This week, the Independent followed up on the topic, with this report that Sajid 'The Saj' Javid used an offshore trust while an MP as a PPE under austerity Chancellor George Osborne at the Treasury.

And did not declare it.

This week's Private Eye also considers Mr Javid's tax affairs, reopening the matter of SA Capital which the Eye first featured in 2016, which Sajid and his brother Atif (hence SA) owned together. SA Capital raised £996,000 in loans in 2005 (the year when Javid and his wife were directors for one single day), but only £411,000 of this was secured from bank loans. The Eye wonders whether the other £585,000 may have come from The Saj's offshore trust: could this have been a tax-efficient route for a non-dom to get cash into the UK?

Mmmmmmm. If not mmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

Financial update

Health Service Journal's excellent recent arrival Henry Anderson has this important analysis on the consequences of inflation for NHS budgets. Anderson concludes that every health system will face real-terms funding cuts in 2022-23 as a result.


The ONS this week noted that tax receipts from 2021-22 have been stronger than anticipated by the OBR forecast, as the FT noted. To what extent this creates any wriggle room for fiscal manoeuvre to address then above probably depends on how badly the local elections this week go for the Conservatives.

The Financial Times also has a new column from data journalist John Burn-Murdoch, in which he analyses the phenomenon of growth in self-pay and crowdfunding to avoid the burgeoning NHS waiting lists. For once, the concept of NHS privatisation is articulated with some credibility, and devoid of conspiracy.

HSJ's Nick Carding covered NHSE Chief Commercial Officer Jacqui Rock's remarks that the last eight selected of the '40 new hospitals' will soon be announced.

But hang on, is it only 40 'new hospitals' now? Surely it was 48? The PM definitely said 48, and he is a man famous for his honesty and veracity.

Covid19: all over, including the testing

The consequences of the UK Health Security Agency's massive budget cuts continue, as it became clear this week that 800 jobs in testing are to be cut.

UKHSA is now proposing to ministers that it suspend regular asymptomatic testing in hospitals and care homes from May, to save money.

Fortunately, hospital admissions and community prevalence both continue their decline. If there is any 'Easter Effect', it is not yet visible.

UK health agency to cut 800 jobs and halt routine Covid testing
Exclusive: ‘Alarming’ cuts by UK Health Security Agency could cost lives, public health experts warn

Getting the Bill into Act-ion

The Health And Social Care leglisation has gone from Bill to Act, with Royal Assent granted just before Parliament went into recess.

The Government statement marking this millstone/milestone (which, conveniently forgetting the austerity decade's impact on NHS performance, claims that the Act "will ensure the NHS can rebuild from the pandemic and tackle the coronavirus (COVID-19) backlog, harness the best ways of working and ensure people are benefitting from more joined-up care") features a series of quotes which become less anodyne and more reality-based as you go down the list. Rob Webster's is particularly cogent.

The Government was forced into a late, and fairly minor, climbdown on the subject of the SOS role interfering in proposed NHS reconfigurations, with the creation of a new six-month deadline for decision-making.

Overall, what I dubbed the 'more Matt Hancock' provisions - which Alan created in response to his frustrations at Sir Simon Stevens doing what both the 2012 Act Lansley reforms and Stevens' own political savvy let him do - remain intact. (The Hunt workforce amendment again fell.)

We watched the subtle subversion of the unravelling of the Lansley reforms by Sir Simon with interest (longstanding readers may remember that I was one of one people to spot this on the publication of the Five-Year Forward View).

So once again, we'll see whether this iteration of legislation makes much practical difference. Thus far, NHS England Pope Amanda Pritchard has played a tough hand well. We are yet to see definitively if she shares Lord Stevens' subtly subversive tendencies.

In reality, a potent cocktail of the looming presence of the next General Election and the massive NHS backlog, with no credible plan to address it whatsoever, will dictate the terms of trade in health policy, politics and NHS survivalism.

Cronyvirus and Coronamillions update

News of the week was the revelation that Conservative peer Baroness Mone's home was raided in connection to the ongoing PPE Medpro contract investigation by the National Crime Agency. ('Cut' has covered this extensively.) It's well worth looking through the Tussell database to remind yourself of the scale of the issue.

The London Stock Exchange reports that “on 25 April 2022, the Company was notified that the DHSC has now issued a claim against Primerdesign Ltd and Novacyt S.A. for £134.6m relating to this contract.”

Recommended and required reading

Guys and St Thomas's innovative approach to surgery and theatre plannings to cut the backlog was featured on BBC News this week.

The Institute for Public Policy Research is launching a new Commission On Health And Prosperity, which might be interesting.

The Times follows up on the issues around pharmaceutical shortages, noting that cancer drugs and painkillers are in short supply, as are Hormone Replacement Therapy medicines.

Bill Gates has written a book about the Covid19 pandemic, and preparing for the next. This Times article of extracts is a decent read, as is this FT summary.

Palantir's hiring spree of ex-NHS Kiss/NHSE tech folk continues unabated, as HSJ reports (COI declaration: I sit on Palantir's advisory board)